Tag Archives: Childcare System

Students & Mentors

Throughout my career I have had many opportunities to welcome students and other educators into my home for tours, observations and practicum placements. I have found these visits to be enlightening and I am certain that I learn just as much or more than any of the ‘students’.

Sometimes visitors are here outside of regular working hours simply to see my childcare environment and get ideas for their own programs.  When there are no children present we have plenty of time for discussions and often the visitors will ask why I have things arranged the way they are.  Even as I answer their questions I may also begin to ponder ‘Is this really the best way or could I do it differently?’

The visitors who come for ‘observations’ have the most difficulty and sometimes it is downright hilarious.  Usually they’ve been instructed to ‘observe’ the children and/or me but not ‘interfere or interact’ with us. LOL The second they entered the room they became the children’s favourite toy.  “Who are you? What are you writing? Can I have your pen/some paper? I drew a flower. I have Darth Vader on my shirt. Do you like light sabers? We aren’t supposed to hit with toys. I’m hungry, did you bring a snack? …. It doesn’t end and honestly I doubt anything they observe would resemble a ‘normal’ day.

My favourite visitors are the Early Childhood Education students here for their practicum placement.  They come for longer periods of time – usually six full days.  They are expected to join in and even plan activities.  They get to know us and we get to know them.  All of the practicum students that have come here were part of the Red River College Workplace program which means they already have experience working in licensed childcare facilities.  Usually these students have only had experience working in centres but have expressed an interest in learning more about family child care as a possible career choice in the future.

They already understand child development and guidance.  Many are well acquainted with licensing regulations, policies and procedures – at least in the centres in which they work.  Some have already worked in childcare for many, many years as childcare assistants.  Really there is little or nothing I could teach them about doing their current job.  However, they are here to learn about family childcare and for most of them that is something new – and very different from what they currently do.

The first comment I hear when these practicum students arrive is almost always ‘I can’t believe how quiet it is’.  Yes, even though I may not always find it ‘quiet’ here, in comparison to working in a centre it is very quiet.  Sometimes I even find it too quiet – especially when I have a particularly independent group or there are some children absent.  There are days that I am tempted to initiate new activities simply because I am bored – I have to stop and consider if the children would actually benefit from my activity or if I would be interrupting a wonderful child-led experience in order for me to feel more productive.

Of course the play space also excites many of the students – especially the use of environmental guidance so I/they don’t have to  constantly provide direct guidance.  I love that the students recognize this.  🙂 They also note how easily the children choose, engage, and clean-up activities with little or no assistance from me.  We often share stories about behaviour issues we’ve experienced at our respective programs and how changes to the environment have/could address them.  I think that the ability to control the environment is what draws many centre staff to family childcare – they see issues at their workplaces, have ideas that could help but for whatever reason are not permitted to implement them.

However, I don’t feel that these practicum students ever experience ‘real’ family childcare when they are here.

Firstly, they are only here for eight hour days, not the eleven I normally spend with the children each day.  The college also expects that I will give them  breaks – many of the students choose to forego their break and leave earlier instead.  There was one who never wanted to leave and often stayed longer than required but still not my full day.  One insisted on taking her lunch break at lunch time – the busiest part of my day – instead of joining the children and I for lunch.  She spent an hour sitting in her car and returned when I had the kitchen clean and all the children settled in for their naps.  In my opinion there were several factors that made me doubt she was suited for ANY position in childcare.

Secondly, these students are never alone here or in their regular workplace.  Certainly there are times when I busy myself elsewhere and observe the student engaging with the children independently but they are not truly  ‘alone’.  There is nothing I can do to allow the students to experience what it is like to be the only one responsible for doing everything all day, every day.  As much as they may think that they would love to be their own boss, that freedom comes with a whole lot more responsibility and time commitment than their current jobs.

Then there is all the other stuff – the evening and weekend stuff when the children are gone.  The cleaning, the paperwork, contacting prospective parents, meetings, interviews and more – the students see none of that.  Are they prepared for the challenge to their work/life balance when they work from home – and what about their families?  The ‘family‘ portion of family child care is a HUGE factor and many providers who choose FCC specifically to stay at home with their own children also discover they prefer working in a centre and can’t wait to ‘get their house back’.

I have had a couple students who claim to understand how much time is required for FCC but then remark that they aren’t actually planning to work in their ‘real’ home because they ‘won’t do that to their family’.  They want to rent/buy a second house or use some other space away from their true home.  We sit down and review some regulations and do some financial calculations for FCC income vs expenses for a separate space. Even if the regulations allowed it, financially this is not a viable option.

Family childcare homes are not centres – they cannot be run the same nor can they be compared to centres.  Not all ECE’s with experience in centres are equipped for working in homes and many FCC Providers would not survive working in centres.  Still, there is a lot we have in common and there is a lot we can learn from each other.

My experiences with mentoring practicum students has been enlightening.  I have observed how the behavior of the children in my care, in my environment, changes with the addition of another caregiver.  I’ve been able to reflect on whether it something I do or the student does that influences the behaviours.  I’m also certain that even though there are days when I could use an extra set of hands to get everything done, I am still much happier working alone.  That’s not the case for everyone – some ECE’s need the larger groups and daily interaction with colleagues and family childcare may not be the best fit for them.

 

Childcare Choices

With the federal election fast approaching childcare has been getting some attention as an election issue. The Childcare Advocacy Association of Canada has asked that we Take the Pledge to Vote Childcare. They provide information about where all the parties stand so voters can make informed decisions.

I usually prefer to stay out of politics and just use my blog to highlight my adventures with the children in my licensed family childcare home but this is an important issue and so I wanted to share some stories of the people I have met throughout my years in childcare. These are not all the choices available – just some of the home based options that I have experienced over the years as a parent before I became a licensed childcare provider and throughout my childcare career.

There is a young mom speaking in broken English – she is very excited because today is her last ‘Intro to Family Childcare’ class and she will soon be on her way to becoming a licensed childcare provider. She has developed her business plan and is looking forward to becoming a productive citizen in this amazing country she now calls home. Realizing her dream of opening her own business will also provide quality childcare to others in her community so they can attend school and go to work.

There was the young man who went to college and earned his Early Childhood Educator Diploma. He worked in a childcare center for several years – his female colleagues valued having a male role model in their facility. His employers, the children he cares for and their families all speak very highly of him. He and his wife have their first child and he decides to open a licensed family childcare home so he can stay at home with his child and still continue to work in the job he loves. Even with his excellent references and the high demand for childcare he has difficulty filling spaces. Many parents are reluctant to place their children in his care because a man staying home to care for children is not the norm.

Another provider in an upscale neighbourhood lives in a beautiful 3000 square foot home most of which is off limits to the children she cares for. She has a dedicated childcare space in her basement. She offers a very structured academic program geared toward older preschool and school-age children. She is very selective about which children she will enroll. When she does have a vacancy she screens through many applicants to find a child that will fit in to her program well.

A couple living in the inner city are both licensed family childcare providers. Together they care for children 24/7 and accommodate parents who work various shifts.

Now, at this point I’d like to say that I’ve met some absolutely excellent unlicensed childcare providers who are operating within legal numbers. An unlicensed childcare home is not regulated in any way other than ratio/max number of children in care – no more than four children under 12 years of age of which no more than two are under two years of age including the providers own children.

Some offer wonderful environments and fantastic programming but are simply uninterested or unwilling to put in the effort required to become licensed. If they are only providing care for preschool children the one extra child (four for unlicensed, five for licensed) isn’t much of an incentive. Especially once you take into consideration that many unlicensed providers charge higher fees than those licensed providers whose fees are set by the province.

Most unlicensed providers and the parents who enroll their children in these programs are unaware that these programs require additional commercial insurance – without it their standard homeowners insurance is void if they operate a home based business licensed or not. Business insurance is required for licensed providers yet even with this separate insurance some providers still have issues with getting basic homeowners insurance.

Let’s now consider some of the illegal unlicensed childcare providers I’ve come across over the years

The young mom on mat leave after the birth of her second child. She also cares for two children of a friend of hers to help out just until she goes back to work. With a total of only four children including her own she is within legal childcare numbers – but she’s not reporting her income to EI.

In the parking lot of a middle class neighbourhood an older woman loads 14 kindergarten and school-age children into the side door of her minivan. It is raining and she doesn’t want them all to walk today – she’s a good driver and she’s only going a short distance so not using seatbelts is OK. She is not licensed to care for these children and most of the parents are aware of this but there is no before/after school program in this school, all these parents need to work and she only charges $5/day. The children will probably just watch TV for the hour or so until their parents get home.

The wonderful mother of three preschool children. She also has three other unrelated infants in her care. Infant care is very hard to find so these parents are thrilled to have found her. Everyone here is aware that this unlicensed facility has over the legal number of children allowed but the parents have no concerns regarding the quality of care their little ones are receiving. Hopefully there will never be an issue. This type of over numbers, unlicensed reflects on the character, values and integrity of those who chose it. It also paves the way for more unlicensed providers.

Ultimately I think I’d like to see ALL childcare facilities be required to be licensed. That might eliminate some of the confusion parents face regarding choosing childcare. All restaurants require licenses and inspections – it doesn’t matter if they are part of a large chain, a small family owned/run business or a mobile truck/cart – good or bad they have a license and rules they must follow in order to keep it. Why is childcare not given the same value – are the children not important?

I know, licensing is a Provincial issue – not a Federal election concern but just for a moment let’s think about that. In my little neighbourhood there are at least four unlicensed childcare providers for every licensed provider. Most of these unlicensed providers are operating within legal numbers but few are reporting their income.

Let’s just say these numbers are the same in all the neighbourhoods across the Province. For this supposition we’ll also assume all these licensed & unlicensed providers averaged are making the same amount of money that I do. Say none of the unlicensed providers are reporting income and paying taxes. Now, pretend all those unlicensed providers across the Province suddenly became licensed and started paying the same taxes that I do. The total new tax revenue from Manitoba would be about…….

$6,916,000.00

Now imagine what that number could do if it was put back in to a universal childcare system.

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